Cotter refutes claims over Irish beef

The chief executive of Bord Bia, Aidan Cotter, has rejected claims made by the National Beef Association (NBA) that not enough Irish beef is certified by the Beef Quality Assurance Scheme (BQAS) in order to satisfy requirements of UK supermarkets.

The NBA said that UK farm credentials were being "seriously undermined" by Bord Bia's refusal to disclose the proportion of Irish production covered by its BQAS and supermarkets unwillingness to properly examine the due diligence credentials of imported Irish beef.

But Cotter said Bord Bia was more than satisfied with the number of farms currently certified by the scheme. He added: "First of all Bord Bia and the Irish industry has been upgrading beef quality assurance since 1991.

"The industry is totally dependent on exports. It's the largest exporter in the northern hemisphere. It exports more beef onto the shelves of more supermarkets in more European countries than any other country of origin. That means it's always had to meet the highest standards - it's had to have high BQAS standards."

Speaking for the NBA, Robert Forster, said: "Over 80% of the UK's beef farmers have jumped through many costly, and time consuming hoops to satisfy inspectors and qualify for their assurance certificate but in the Republic of Ireland only an estimated 8% of farmers have so far qualified for BQAS and supermarkets, which require 36% of Irish production to fill their shelves, have still to cut back their orders."

Speaking on Wednesday last week, Cotter said that there were 11,000 farmers registered with the BQAS and of those, 7,500 would be fully updated and certified in their inspections by the time the Journal went to press. He added a further 500-1,000 were waiting for reviews.

"There are 6,500 farms within that amount who are responsible for producing half of Irish export production. That's more than half of the British supermarket requirements - it's three to four times the production required."

Cotter stressed that there had been no issue with BQAS and no problems with the UK supermarket requirements and claimed that the NBA did not fully understand the British supermarket structure.

Forster said: "The NBA has analysed Irish farm structures and noted there are around 84,600 farms carrying beef cattle that are over one year old and that UK supermarkets would require beef from around 487,500 head.

"If importers of Irish beef could get that number of cattle from just 6,500 farms then the average number on each accredited farm would have to be 75 head when the national average is about 14 head.

"And if Bord Bia's figure of 6,500 farms is correct then only 8% of Irish farms are BQAS covered and it is asking people to strain their credibility to eye popping levels if it wants them too believe that 50% of Irish production can be lifted from such a small number of farms."

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